directors

What exactly is “devising” anyway?

Hey folks, something a little different for today.

This past Sunday I gave a presentation on “devised” theater for Directors Gathering. As I sat down to prep for the evening, I realized that for so much of my career I’ve defined my work (or had it defined for me) as a series of oppositions. My work tends not to exist in a traditional space. It tends not to take a linear form. It tends not to let the audience sit back and passively observe.

As I started trying to describe this “style” of work I kept asking myself, rather than thinking about what it isn’t can I articulate was it is?

The short answer is yes, I can.

And because I was so pleased with the reply that I found in answer to that question, I thought it would be worth sharing with you.

So here it is…

A

 

An interview with Adrienne

Hey all,

FringeArts did a nice little interview with me a while back about my current thoughts on art, projects in the Swim Pony mix and my hopes for sustainability over the long term of a long term career.

If you’re interested in reading (and seeing me sitting backwards in that omnipresent chair) check it out by clicking this picture:

Print

Enjoy,

– A

Dispatches from the Awesome Lady Squad

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Hey Awesome Ladies!

Spring has technically sprung, despite the nastiness of the current weather, and with it comes new blooms of Awesome-ness. LADYFESTO! now created we march ahead onto bigger and even better projects.

What’s next, you ask?

Let me share with you three upcoming opportunities to take part in the Squad:

1) A Frank Convo About the Classical Canon:

I’ll admit it. I’ve been having some tough conversations inside my own head and with others about how to deal with being a contemporary female artist in relation to “great” works from the past. And so, to help sort through some of these, I’ve invited a bunch of smart and thoughtful ladies who spend a lot of their time in these works to chat with me (and maybe you) about how they navigate these waters. My goal is talk openly about how and when to keep aspects of these plays from the past while still holding true to our Awesome Lady principles of the present.

Want to join? Then come to Headlong Studios (1170 S Broad St) on May 12th from 3 – 5pm to be a part of the conversation.

2) An Awesome Lady Talking Toolkit:

Back in the early months of this year we identified a series of problems the Squad wanted to solve and some things we’d like to have to help to do. One of the most frequently mentioned “wish list” items were these:

  • Skills to handle tough conversations about gender parity.
  • A way to talk about this that doesn’t become apologetic or defensive.
  • Something to say when I sense people starting to roll their eyes.
  • The ability to talk and explain the “no” to a project that doesn’t conform to my moral code.

This meeting will be the first of several to tackle this solution.

Maybe we’ll make a workbook, a writing exercise, a checklist, a document with a series of go to argument points, something even more Awesome we can’t even yet conceive!!! If you want define what form it will take, strategize a plan and timeline for its creation, and figure out how to roll it out for the Squad at large, this meeting is for you.

Headlong Studios (1170 S Broad St) on May 19th from 7 – 9 pm to join in.

And finally!

3) Awesome Lady Observerships (ongoing):

Being a director can be a lonely business. Whether you’re a season pro or a newbie to the game, rarely get to watch each other in action.  Chatting with Allison Heishman the other day we talked about much we both wanted the chance to just sit back and observe other ladies do their Awesome directing thing. In our artistic landscape – one filled with abundance and support – we figured getting to pick up tools, see problems solved in new ways or even just admire someone else in action is just the thing to help solve this.

So! If you’re intrigued, send an email to swimponypa@gmail.com and the following info:

  1. Your name

  2. If you’re interested in letting people observe you and any upcoming work they might be able to see

  3. If you’re interest in seeing someone else’s work

I’ll put some kind of list together and follow up soon.

Whew! That was an awful lot of Awesome-ness.

And I think that’s all for now, Ladies.

– Adrienne

Thank you for not assuming

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I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an Awesome Lady ally. And I think one of the first steps in becoming an ally to the squad is by looking around and acknowledging the subtle gifts, the extra little pushes, that male artists get that female artists aren’t.

In a recent article I read about the ally movement for racial discrimination, the author “nance” (I looked, I couldn’t find her real name) talks about a funny moment in which her husband rides his bike home one day faster than ever before. He wonders briefly if finally all his months of riding have paid off, if his fitness prowess is seriously improved, as evidenced by his speed and agility during the ride. Soon though, he whizzes past a flag pole and sees the way the the flags are blowing. As he stops he realizes that a strong wind has been blowing at his back the entire time.

In other words, it’s not just his improved muscle tone that’s helping the ride go so exquisitely, it’s an invisible but forceful push that he at first didn’t even realize was there.

The author also references this somewhat “classic” article on the assumptions of white privilege in which the writer sets down a list of ways her skin color gives her advantage in situations, small and large, on a regular basis.

Inspired by these articles, and the corollary of them when it comes to gender privilege I came up with a little list of my own. I call it:

BEING A DUDE IN THEATER IS LIKE RIDING A BIKE WITH THE WIND AT YOUR BACK

Or

STUFF THAT AWESOME LADY ALLIES MIGHT NOT REALIZE AND THAT THEY OUGHT TO BE AWARE OF

–       If I am a director I am most often working on material written by someone of the same gender.

–       If I am an actor I am generally in the majority gender of the cast.

–       If I am a writer no one will read my play and assume I chose the subject matter based on my sex.

–       If I am a designer I will attend production meetings in which my gender is not in the minority.

–       It will not be assumed I want to work plays that have to do with my gender.

–       If I do want to make work having to do with my gender it will not be assumed this is the extent of the kind of work I intend to make.

–       If I eventually make work about my gender I do not have to worry about this defining how people will think of me as a creator for the rest of my career.

–       No one assumes that a grant to work on projects about my gender should be linked with social change.

–       If I bring up an issue with a gender stereotype I will not be told that I’m inserting my perspective into a piece that’s not about that.

–       I am not often asked to play sexually provocative roles.

–       I am rarely asked to wear revealing clothing onstage.

–       If I am aggressive or meek no one will assume that quality comes by virtue of my gender.

–       If I work collaboratively with people of the opposite sex, no one assumes they are the real driving force behind our work.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all women, I do not have to worry that people will assume I’m doing that just because of my gender.

–       If I direct a play with mostly or all men, I do not have to worry if I’m being a traitor to artists of my gender.

–       I do not have to worry that my successes or failures may reflect on other creators of my gender.

–       I do not have to feel responsible to other artists of my gender at all.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a factor against me getting a job.

–       I can assume my gender will not be a hindrance to me acquiring roles in which the gender is not a major factor of their character.

–       I can assume if I am cross-gender cast that people will look at this casting as an artistic choice and not a gender diversity handout.

–       I can assume when talking about the artistic canon that it is made by people of the same gender as mine.

–       I can assume that when people talk about the “Greats” of my field they will be the same gender as I am.

–       I can assume that the most produced theatrical writer in the world is the same gender as I am.

–       I can take an interest in classical works and not worry that my gender will prohibit me from getting work in this field.

–       I can assume that works in the canon represent a diversity in type of roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume there are a wealth of lead roles for people of my gender.

–       I can assume when learning about my medium I will be studying artists predominantly of my gender.

–       I can assume my mentors will predominantly be the same gender as I am.

–       It will not be surprising or impressive if I am good with the financial side of my company’s daily upkeep.

–       It will not be impressive or remarkable if I go into sound, light or set design.

–       I will never have to suspect I’m being paid less because of my gender.

–       I don’t have to decide whether it is more advantageous to dress to accentuate my gender or not.

–       If I’m an asshole, this trait will never be linked to my gender.

–       I will never be called shrill.

–       I will never be called bossy.

–       I will never be called bitchy.

–       No one assumes I’m not funny because of my gender.

–       I don’t ever feel like I have to choose between being funny or sexy.

–       No one automatically assumes I have interest in or will be good at working with children.

–       I can assume that if I have kids people will not worry that my priorities as an artist will be impacted.

–       It will not be automatically assumed that I will be motherly, nurturing or emotional supportive.

–       If I am an actor, as I age I will likely be in more demand not less.

–       It is not assumed because of my gender that I cannot carry heavy things or do manual labor.

–       If I have no interest in manual labor or carrying heavy things (because I’m just not fucking interested in it) it is also not assumed that I feel this way because of my gender.

–       When the gender parity going gets tough or the inequity feels too heavy to deal with on a given day, I don’t have to think about it.

And finally, this list is obviously just my own opinion because I intend to invoke the final privilege of the list:

–       No one assumes I speak on behalf of all people of my gender. I can assume I only speak for me.

See you tomorrow allies!

A

Choice

So I’ve been reading the many articles that have been appearing on HowlRound recently about women directors

First this one

Then this one

And finally this one

All of these to some degree are about the language we use as female directors in our rehearsal rooms.  I’ve been thinking, brewing, about this for a few days now. Thinking about my own rehearsals as a female director. Of my responses to the article and responses to the responses, and then if humanly possible my response to the response’s response.  I’ve been formulating my own opinions about how I feel in response to these articles. And it occurs to me this afternoon that to explain my feelings about how to talk about language, I need to first talk not about words but about voice.

This semester I have a student named Maranda who has the most amazing voice.

Her sound is generally placed pretty low in her chest. It’s not raspy or throaty but it’s lower and further back than the typical standard of placement for most American speakers. I should probably mention she is Jamaican and sports a relatively thick Patois accent, too.

She is usually one of the first to arrive so on the days I teach at her school, I watch students walk into the black box for voice class and greet her sitting in the second row of the seating area.

“Hello, Ma-RAAAN-dah,” most of them say.

“Hello,” she says back and smiles. 

So far this semester I’ve led Maranda and her classmates in exercises on playing resonance in different parts of the body, in articulation exercises, and projection. I’ve tried to give them skills to open up access to all the sounds their voices are capable of.

One of the first realizations to come in my class is there is no such thing as a person’s “voice” in the singular sense. Around week 3 my students always begin to write about their voices in plural. They talk about how their sounds change over a range of different contexts and in relation to different people. The voice they use for a boss or teacher is quite different than the one they might employ for their friends, entirely different from the one they use with their parents, and different still than one for performance. These voices, they are begin to realize, are not the same. Consciously or not they are employing different sounds to try and achieve a different relationship with the listener.

And it is around this time that they read an article about vocal habits and explain what the author Patsy Rodenberg means when she says that habits are only a problem when they are no longer a choice. It is also around this time that I begin to hammer home a point that I will make through the rest of the course, a moral that underpins everything about the way I approach voice work: there is no such thing as a voice that is “better” than another voice. Ethically, morally, aesthetically, there are no “bad” voices.

There are simply voices that are useful in communicating and achieving what you want, and voices that aren’t.

Which means a high-pitched tiny “girly” voice can be fantastically useful in some contexts just as much as a low basso commanding one. A quiet sound just as powerful as a loud one depending on what you’re using it to do. It just depends on what you’re after.

Most of the students, to some degree, read the article and understand that the point I’m after is that your voice, your tendencies, your style is just as “good,” as long as it’s serving you to get what you want and as long as it is your choice. So when they start making sounds that at first feel funny in their bodies and mouths I say that I don’t care if they talk that way, but I do care that they have the option. When I make them stand in front of each other and speak I ask them constantly what they are trying to make the audience think and feel. The class and I collectively listen to each person and think and talk about ways we can use the voice to get us to the goal the speaker is aiming for.

Each vocal quality is a different choice that will provoke a different effect. That effect is their choice to make. I’m simply trying to give them tools to have as many ways to do that as possible.

This is what I think about when I think about the conversation regarding language and female directors. Each kind of language is a choice. Each one will elicit a different response. Each one is useful in some ways and not in others. It just depends on the tactic the particular directing is using to get to the end goal.

Can assertive language be effective? Sometimes. It can also be aggressive and off-putting.

Can accommodating language be perceived as weak? Sometimes. It can also be welcoming of a variety of perspectives and lead to an open and collaborative environment.

There are processes where I mostly ask questions. There are others where I mostly tell everyone what to do. And I don’t think the answer is picking an answer as to which is “right.” Because inevitably that “right” won’t be right for some people and some works of art. What troubles me in the task of trying to define the best type of female directing language is that it actually removes the choices that we so desperately seek to empower these female artists with. Better, I’d say, to ask whether the kind of language you use is getting you what you want. Better, perhaps, to ask if the language you use is one that you feel you own and have agency over. Better, I’d propose, to ask if your language is a habit over which you have choice.

Most recently, my voice class has been focused on an assignment where students bring in pieces of text that they have to present in front of each other. The text cannot be their own writing and this means that each of them must think about how to shift their voices to best communicate the language they have chosen to share with their audience. Last week, when Maranda went up she looked just a tiny bit nervous.

“Can I ask something first?”

“Sure.”

“The character in my book… Do you care if I talk like a white girl?”

Everyone giggles for a second.

“You can present the text however you want to.”

And Maranda’s voice, with its resonant and lilting Jamaican accent that has charmed the class for weeks, transforms into a nasal flat Midwesterner. Close your eyes and you literally wouldn’t believe it was the same person.

Our mouths collectively hit the floor.

The next class I watch again as the students enter.

“Hello, Ma-RAAAN-dah,” they say as always. And she laughs as I tell her it’s obvious they are jealous of her sound.

And she smiles because she I can see she knows it is true. And I’d guess it’s not only because of the beautiful voice that comes naturally but also because she has the power to shape the way they hear her. She could sound a different way if she wanted to. She can be those other kinds of voices when she chooses. She can go to all the places my exercises ask her to. But when she finishes, she doesn’t stay in those other sounds.

She goes back to the accent.

Because she has the choice.

– A

One small thing (that’s also huge) that you can literally do RIGHT now

I’ve spent a lot of time the past couple weeks writing about my feelings. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the things that I’m trying to do to make Philadelphia a more equal place for artists who are women.

Today, instead, I’m asking you to do something.

Take a look at the websites of your favorite performance companies. See what seasons they have lined up. Or see if they haven’t announced them yet.

And for ones that are still undecided, and ESPECIALLY for ones that have announced seasons with imbalance toward men, send a quick email to the Artistic Director, Managing Director, and head of their board.

Tell them you are their audience base.

Tell them you want to see women employed by their company.

Tell them it matters to you that this happens.

You can do this today. It might take you 15 minutes It could change an entire year of programming.  That’s how powerful your voice could be.

And if you aren’t feeling creative, I’ll even give something badass and awesome to cut and paste into an email:

“Dear _______ Theater Co/Ensemble/Theatre/Whatever,

I love your work.

I also love female art makers.

And I’d really love to love both of those things at the same time.

I want you to know, because of how much I care about your company, that I’m concerned about the inequity of representation for women artists in next year’s theater season. As a member of your audience base, I’m letting you know that one of the ways I will make choices about what I will or won’t see will be based on whether I see women getting the space on stages they deserve.

I care about seeing female characters. I care about hearing female voices. I want to see women in directing and design positions.  And because I want to believe you want this to, I’m reaching out.

I’m asking you, as an audience member, as a fan, and as part of the community your mission seeks to serve, to please look long and hard about the work you’re bringing me next year and make sure that gender parity – for playwrights, for designers, for directors and actors – is a priority in the work you present.

Because I know it is for me.

And I hope you make me proud.”

Steal, change it, do whatever you want, just DO it. Right now, this very moment, you could make a difference.

– A

3 years and $300,000 and I’ll fix it, for realz…

Alright, enough moping.

So remember how I said that the tough thing about talking about the issue of gender parity, the problem, wasn’t intentions, but a lack of culpability for outcomes.

In other words, how do you get people to not just think about doing the right thing but actually motivate them to do it?

Guess what?

Yesterday, I figured it out.

You just need some money.

You need a funding program that has nothing to do with intentions, because we all have the best intentions. What you need is a reward system that is entirely based on outcomes.

So.

Without further ado, I give you:

SWIM PONY MASSIVELY OVERHAULS THE STATE OF WOMEN ARTISTS IN THREE YEARS AND WHO KNEW IT WOULD BE THIS FLIPPIN EASY GRANT PROGRAM

Also known as:

AWESOME LADIES GETTIN’ WHAT’S DUE (ALGWD for short)

(With support from Pew Charitable Trusts

Or maybe William Penn

Or maybe The Wyncote Foundation

Or The Knight Foundation

Really who cares, someone has to fund this, right?)

Here are my proposed guidelines:

1)   The ALGWD team announces to the Philadelphia-area theater community that starting next season any company, of any size, with access to their own non-profit status or a fiscal sponsor is eligible for an award at the end of a three year period.

2)   The funding awards will be made in two categories:

  • $25,000 will be awarded to 5 companies with the highest percentage of women artists represented across three artistic categories (see below).
  • Any company that achieves 45% female representation across all three categories is eligible to receive $10,000.
  • PS – You have to hit the minimum in all three. No exceptions.

3)   Female artists represented will be calculated based on a statistics over three categories:

  • Number of women playwrights
  • Number of women directors
  • Number of women actors

4)   Other rules and guidelines:

  • Companies will submit their statistics and then have them validated by the grant committee in order to be eligible.
  • The statistics must include all artistic output by a company.
  • Artistic outputs included must be open to the public.
  • A company must meet a minimum of three public works to be eligible for consideration.
  • Funds are string-free. You can use them for whatever you want.

5)   And maybe we could also add this as a bonus:

  • A $1,000 in additional funds are available for any company that can also show an equal parity across all categories of theatrical design regardless of whether they reach the above minimums.

This means for three years there’s a looming pile of cash incentivizing the choice to bring women artists in. It’s not the only consideration, but it’s enough to help counteract a tiny bit of that un-intentional push away from a female artists in the other direction.

And happily, unlike calling someone out or making a stink, this grant doesn’t hurt anyone who decides they can’t or won’t be able to meet the gender equality minimum. You can do all the dude heavy, dude written, dude directed plays you want. It just means you’re missing out on the free money party.

Of the 12 companies I surveyed numbers on last year, a few were pretty darn close – Flashpoint, Simpatico and Azuka – but not one would have hit this minimum requirement across all three categories. But if there were $10,000 at stake, how much do you want to bet they’d tweak their selections just a tiny bit to nudge them over the line? If the next time the AD’s of these companies looked at their numbers and knew that hiring one more female director got them $10,000 do you think they’d think as hard about whether or not to do it? Do you think that the choice between a female playwright and a male one would be quite so agonizing if one picking the former meant they might be one of those companies competing for the top 5 slot?

For most companies, $25,000 or $10,000 in funds that aren’t project ear-marked would make a huge difference. That’s an entire person’s salary in some cases. That’s the budget for an entire show for the really small ones. And even if you’re a bigger dog, one where the scale you’re operating on won’t be totally transformed by this kind of cash, think about how hard you chase donors on this scale. You could just do the work you’re already doing AND save women artists from inequity while getting money handed to you.

The way I see it there are something on the order of 30 – 40 companies in Philly and the surrounding areas who’d be eligible. If I had to guess, right now, there are probably only a handful – 5 maybe – that potentially meet those guidelines already.  From rough estimation it seems like about half those companies could probably hit those numbers with just a bit of effort to add a few female directors or playwrights or plays with more female roles. If I were a betting woman, I’d guess the same half of those 30 – 40 would come out the other side of three years with hands outstretched for their $10,000.

Think about the impact that would make in this community:

  • 5 companies at the top x $25,000 = $125,000
  • ~16 more companies at the minimum x $10,000 = $160,000
  •  ~15 that also hit the design minimum x $1,000 = $15,000

That’s $300,000.

This is really not that much money.

Think about that Philly funders…  For a single upper limit Pew organizational project grant:

  • You could have an incredibly concrete means to measure the impact of your efforts by surveying the stats on gender before the award period and after.
  • You could incentivize not promises or discussions but measurable, quantifiable outcomes.
  • You could reward those companies already employing positive gender parity practices.
  • You could send a message that your organization cares deeply about the status of women artists and is able to take steps to do something about it.
  • You could create an art-making environment in Philadelphia that can be nationally recognized as the most female friendly in the country.
  • You could massively shift everything about the way this city works for women artists.

No hemming or hawing. No yelling or fighting. No pipelining. No apologies for what we intended to do but couldn’t quite make happen.  Just three years to make it happen or not.

Some folks will ask you for a whole new system and ten years or more to implement it.

I’m just asking for three years and $300,000.

Let’s do it now Philly before some other city snatches up our good idea.

– Adrienne

PS – Shout out to Brad Wrenn who dreamed this up in the car with me when I was having a shitty morning yesterday.